Weird & Weirder in Kansas

I met a guy from Kansas once and he seemed quite normal. He was managing a phone company in Trinidad and we played a few rounds of golf together while I was on vacation there in the mid-1970s. But surely he must be an exception. From what I’m reading these days, Kansas is really, really weird.

For one thing, Kansas is one of the reddest of red states – despite the fact that their governor has inflicted economic disaster on the state by implementing the bogus policies you hear those Republicans preaching about. You know – subsidize the rich and corporations, and let the rest of us go hungry. That kind of thing.

The governor, a pig farmer’s son named Sam Brownback, eliminated taxes for small businesses, cut the highest income tax rates by 25 percent, and made smaller cuts for people with lower rates.

Of course, that left the state drowning in red ink and its residents without an array of essential services.

To their credit, some Kansans have figured out what’s going on – enough of them to put the governor’s job in jeopardy and even endanger long-serving Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who is up for re-election in November. So they’re going to vote Democrat, right?

Not necessarily. They might be fed up with the Republicans but those weird Jayhawks are not about to put a Democrat in the Senate.

They might, however, elect an Independent – specifically Independent Greg Orman.

So, with their majority in the Senate teetering on the brink, the Democrats decided to fight weird with weird. Democratic candidate Chad Taylor announced he was dropping out of the race so he wouldn’t split the anti-Roberts vote.

Weird enough for you? It gets weirder.

Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach refused to remove Taylor’s name from the ballot. He said Taylor hadn’t filled out all the right forms or something like that.

So the Democrats sued. And the Kansas Supreme Court decided Taylor had filled out the right forms and was officially out of the race. So is Kobach giving up?

No, this is Kansas. It gets weirder still. Kobach insists that Democrats must field a replacement candidate and he has given the party eight days to do it.

So where do we go from here? Who knows? This is Kansas, remember?

Click for more on the Kansas Senate race.

Click for more on the governor’s race.

Click for the economic disaster in Kansas.


How Does China Do It?

A Chinese e-commerce company named Alibaba – something like eBay and Amazon wrapped up in one package – set records with its massive multi-billion-dollar IPO on the New York Stock Exchange this morning. And this could just be the beginning. Expect more Chinese megabrands to emerge on the world stage soon.

I am amazed at China’s success, although – from what I know about the society – I wouldn’t want to live there.

How does China stay out of war for example? I don’t know of one Chinese soldier on foreign soil this morning. Chinese traders yes. Chinese investors – they’re pledging billions for India and building resort hotels in the Caribbean. They are locking up sources of vital raw materials in Latin America and Africa. All of this without one drone strike.

I know, by now you’re calling me a Communist. But praising China is not praising Communism – not as I know it, anyway.

China is obviously a capitalist power and becoming more successful at practicing capitalism all the time. The marketing of products like the Xiaomi smart phone is a case in point.

 In an article in The Drum, David Brabbins of Prophet in Hong Kong reports that:

One emerging brand is turning brand building on its head by basing the entire company around customer-driven design. In bringing the ‘customer-development’ philosophy of internet companies to a hardware product category, it is rewriting the established order of the smartphone industry.

It’s called Xiaomi – “Think of ‘show me’ and then pronounce the first word as if it was ‘shower’” recommends Hugo Barra, the ex-Google Android boss who now heads up the company (it has recently shortened to ‘Mi’ for a global audience) – and it’s transforming the way smartphones are developed, priced, promoted and sold, while reinventing how brands are built in the digital age.

It has a killer lean business model that’s making everyone else look expensive, and this gives it a huge number of competitive advantages.

As I said, I’m not planning to move to China any time soon. From what I know, the vast country is in the grip of ruthless tyrants who have no patience with dissidents. Here in America I enjoy precious personal freedom.

But China must be doing something right.

You don’t hear ISIS threatening to wreak havoc in Beijing. You don’t hear Putin rattling his warheads at China. Yes, the Japanese are mad as hell at the Chinese for claiming some islands in their area, and the Vietnamese also have their shorts in a knot over territorial disputes with China. But that’s hardly the same as the bloody crises in which America and Europe  are involved.

The way I see it, China is the ultimate pragmatist, free of restricting dogma or ideology to do whatever works. And that philosophy seems to be working very well indeed. 

Unfortunately, it implies freedom from morality, too. And that’s a frightening trade-off. One that I personally would not dream of accepting.

Click for Brabbins’ article.

 Click for the Alibaba IPO.

Click for Chinese investment in Latin America.


Time to Fade Away

U.S. Sen. McCain Discusses Proposal For Enhanced Rescission Line-Item Veto Authoritynewt

Are you surprised to see John McCain (top photo) on TV? How about Newt Gingrich (bottom photo)? I am surprised. And discouraged. They are like a bad cold that just seems to hang on forever. Surely these old war horses have had their day and it’s time for them to fade away?

I suppose the 24-hour cable channels have a hard time finding recognizable faces to fill their endless cycle of “news.” But there must be “experts” out there who haven’t worn out their welcome in our living rooms.

What could McCain say now that we haven’t heard many times over? Surely everyone knows he wants to bomb, bomb, bomb any and everybody. He is the voice of endless war, the advocate of perpetual bloodshed. I think he is mentailly unbalanced, but that’s just me. The cable TV producers obviously think he is some kind of sage.

I won’t go into McCain’s checkered past. He is widely hailed as a war hero, but there’s another, darker side to his life that doesn’t get much attention.

Gingrich is another tainted blast from the past that continues to haunt our TV screens. What could he possibly have to say now? Hasn’t he been discredited over and over and over?

Yet he remains a sought-after source of wisdom on the issues of the day. On Tuesday, for example, he made a speech on housing before the Bipartisan Policy Center. The Huffington Post’s Zach Carter observes that it “epitomizes the soft corruption of Washington elites at their worst. ”

Everyone who has been listening for the past two or three decades must know that Gingrich is in the business of lining his own pockets and has no concern for the nation’s welfare. He and his associates churn out an endless stream of newsletters, books, tapes – even children’s books – to mine the vast credulity of American “conservatives.”

The Huffington Post piece recalls that while Gingrich was in Congress, he was a diehard defender of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, organizations that played a key role in creating the housing bubble that triggered America’s worst recession in more than half a century.  And when he was ousted from his lofty Congressional perch, he raked in more than $1.6 million as a consultant for Freddie Mac.

Yet on Tuesday, this same Newt Gingrich lectured policy makers on the dangers of too-big-to-fail institutions backed by government guarantees.

In this age of non-stop newscasts, Americans are exposed to all kinds of bogus “experts” – think-tank hacks and PR flacks who are paid to create and spread propaganda, for example. But I don’t think any of these media parasites are as annoying as the worn-out fogeys the cable channels dredge up. Fogeys like McCain and Gingrich, for example.

Click for the Huffington Post story.

Click for McCain’s shady past.

Behind the scenes with Gingrich.


I Hit the Mute Button

For the next six weeks we will face a plague of TV ads designed to make us vote one way or another. I usually hit the mute button on my remote when I see one coming on. But occasionally I don’t get to the remote in time and I have to suffer through the mischievous nonsense.

There is no regulation for those ads, apparently. It seems candidates and their PACs pay their money and air whatever they like, true or false.

Take the ominous sounding commercial cooked up by the Rick Scott campaign here in Florida. Scott’s company, as you might know, paid a fine of more than a billion dollars for defrauding Medicare and he still got elected governor of our wretchedly uninformed state.

So I find it ironic that he is trying to paint Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who became a Democrat so he could run against Scott, as the one who is a crooked politician.

The commercial is impressive. But it is a crock.

Here is how the Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo and Jay Weaver sum it up:

With soft piano music in the background, an anonymous Republican in Gov. Rick Scott’s latest attack ad levels an explosive claim about Democrat Charlie Crist and Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.

“I got swindled by both Rothstein and Charlie,” the man says.

But not only is there no evidence to support this accusation about Crist, the Miami Herald has identified the man as Fort Lauderdale investor Dean Kretschmar — and found that he never made that allegation in his successful lawsuit to recover millions of dollars in Rothstein-related losses.

The truth is a lot less melodramatic than the commercial. According to the Herald, what really happened was that:

Rothstein showered Crist and other politicians, mostly Republicans, with tainted money that almost all of them returned after the scheme was exposed in 2009. Rothstein used his close relationships with Crist, other politicians, sports stars, and area religious and charitable leaders as an advertising tool to dupe investors.

That doesn’t make Crist a saint, of course. But if ever there was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it.


Yes We Can. Yes We Must



It’s that time of year. The phone surveys are beginning. Who am I going to vote for and why, the callers want to know. Last night was a little different. The lady on the phone also wanted to know what issue I think is most important in the November elections. She listed some heavyweight stuff – jobs and the economy for example, managing growth, illegal immigration, legalizing medical marijuana…

I had no trouble picking my number-one concern – preserving the environment. For if we don’t protect our environment, nothing else will matter.

Yet the environment is getting short shrift in the media these days. The “news” is all about ISIS beheadings and NFL uglies beating up their “loved ones.” And I can understand why. The melodramatic stuff is more exciting. But climate change is far more important.

As surely as the sun rises each day, we the people are destroying our earth.

I know, Republicans will tell you it ain’t necessarily so. But if you believe what Republicans tell you, I’m sorry for you. You need help.

Fortunately, there are people working their butts off to reverse the practices that so terrifyingly threaten our environment.

This week, for example, tens of thousands of marchers will invade midtown Manhattan to demand action to fight climate change. Timed to coincide with the first UN summit on the climate crisis, the march is being hailed as the largest-ever demonstration to combat global warming.

The media may not give the march much attention. But President Obama is listening. He is proposing such measures as a carbon tax to discourage carbon emissions. And Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott of Virginia is proposing an even steeper carbon tax that is designed to cut total U.S. carbon emissions by 30 percent in 10 years.

But you can forget about such measures if coal and oil billionaires like the Koch Brothers win control of Congress in November. They are spending millions to convince us that climate change is perfectly natural and that their polluting plants pose no threat to Mother Earth.

And I don’t have to tell you what party they are voting for.


Poisonous Predictions



There are no sure things in life. That’s about the only thing I’m sure of. California Chrome did not win the Triple Crown. Dewey did not beat Truman.

So I wish the pundits would stop giving the Republicans control of Congress. It’s only September, folks. The polls don’t open till November.

I never thought much of Jay Carney. I didn’t like him when he was President Obama’s press secretary and I don’t like him now that he is a CNN analyst. I like him even less this morning after reading that he predicts the Democrats will get a thrashing in the impending midterm elections.

Carney is not alone. Far from it. The dispiriting refrain is everywhere. Even the begging emails I get from various Democrats have a desperate ring to them.

Have these people never heard of self-fulfilling prophecies? Or are they intentionally sabotaging their party’s chances?

If they keep up their defeatist lament, we the Democratic voters could lose heart and stay home. Their dire prophecy would be fulfilled in spades.

What’s really sad is the wonkish reasoning behind the defeatist predictions. Like so many others, Carney’s argument is based on historical generalizations, not on the issues of the day. He says, for example, that the sixth year is “always” bad for a president’s party and several Senate seats now held by Democrats happen to be in states that traditionally vote Republican.

I’ve seen that reasoning before. But “states” don’t vote and the past is not “always” prelude to the future.

It’s people who vote. And the American people have an overwhelming case against the Republicans. The vast majority of American women, for example. Whether they live in a red state, a blue state, a purple state or a polka dot state, how can any American woman vote for a party that has demonstrated such disregard for her rights and such contempt for her as a human being?

How about American students? If you were a student would you vote for the party that is working overtime to keep those exorbitant interest rates on your student loan?

You know that black Americans have recognized that the Republican Party is a fortress of white privilege – even white supremacy. Check those history books the pundits like to quote and you’ll find the vast majority of America’s black voters opt for the Democratic candidate every time.

Do you also know that Hispanic voters are recognizing they have no future in a Republican America? The Republicans have made it abundantly clear whose side they’re on. And it’s not on the side of the Hispanics, that’s for sure.

I could go on and on. First Nation Americans, would-be immigrants of every nationality – and their relatives – how could they vote Republican? That also goes for civil servants, teachers, firefighters, law officers, trade union members, fast food workers, the sick, the unemployed, the poor, gays, marijuana smokers… The Republicans have thumbed their noses at them all.

The Grand Old Party is firmly in the camp of just one constituency – white privilege. Make that male, white privilege. In fact, make that straight, male, white privilege (especially straight, white, male, religious bigots)… and not the straight, white, bigoted, male students, either – not unless the students can afford to pay for their education up front.

The way I see it, hardly anybody has any reason to vote Republican. Not even the rich, white, male bigots in their cocoon of privilege. If they have any sense, they must realize their days of wine and roses are numbered. The lopsided economic and social system on which they rely cannot survive forever. Le deluge is coming unless there is radical reform. And soon.

Yu want my my prediction for November? Here it is: Democrats win it all. Republicans lose. (But only if we the people get out and vote.)

Click for Carney’s prediction.


A Culture of Rage

Life in a civilized society is inevitably frustrating. We cannot always do as we wish. We have to modify our behavior to accommodate the other members of our society. But as we mature – if we are lucky enough to mature – we adjust to the restraints that we must endure to live in a civilized society.

Of course not everyone matures. Some people just grow older.

Ray Rice obviously hasn’t matured.  Adrian Peterson (photo above) obviously hasn’t matured.

Rice is the thug shown in that video the TV stations are so in love with. You know, the one where he knocks his fiancée cold in an elevator and drags her limp body around like a sack of sugar.

Peterson is the thug who beat up his 4-year-old son. According to one news report:

Peterson grabbed a tree branch, which he referred to as a “switch,” according to law enforcement sources, removed the leaves and struck the child with it repeatedly.

The beating reportedly resulted in cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to his hands.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Rice and Peterson are professional football players.

To me that’s what American football is all about – savage violence.

I don’t pretend to understand American football. I am told that it involves a high level of skill and intricate strategic maneuvers. But all I see is a crowd of overweight guys running into each other, grunting like cave men and knocking each other about. Then I see them, one by one, limping off the field and getting treated for some injury.

I am forever grateful to my daughter Grace that she did not encourage either of her sons to play football. My elder grandson Jonathan opted for the comparatively gentle sport of wrestling, and his younger brother, Adam, chose swimming and badminton.

I realize that I am part of a tiny minority when it comes to football. Most Americans – especially the males – are enraptured by the game. The NFL is hugely profitable because of this love affair.

I think this says a lot about American society.  And what it says is not complimentary.

I think football fans are venting a massive reservoir of pent-up violence when they cheer their favorite warriors, even urging them to “kill” the opposing players. I see the NFL as just one symptom of a culture of violence, a culture in which guns are glorified, obscenity is admired and women and children get beaten up. This violence is bred, at least in part, by the inevitable frustrations and disappointments of the desperately unsatisfying daily lives that most of us must lead.

I suppose the NFL will sternly punish Rice and Peterson. The media will insist on it.

But I find this depressingly ironic. Where do you think Rice and Peterson learned their primitive behavior? Probably in the NFL. And if they came to the NFL with a background of violence and thuggery, the NFL did everything in its power to make them even more savage.

The sickness of violence runs deep and wide in America. It will take a lot more than suspension of a couple of players by the NFL to cleanse the infection.


Don’t Complain. V ote!

The U.S. Senate is supposed to be voting today on a constitutional amendment that would allow the federal and state governments to limit political campaign spending. But the amendment has very little chance of passing. And if by some miracle it slips past the procedural roadblocks and gets the two-thirds majority such legislation requires, the Republican controlled House would never even debate such a bill.

Money is very persuasive, and there’s a lot of money at stake here. Politicians tend to vote in favor of their wallets.

For reasons that I don’t completely grasp, it seems to take massive campaign spending to win elections nowadays. Not always, of course, but often enough to affect the balance of power in Congress. America is becoming a plutocracy – if it hasn’t become one already.

The Supreme Court’s decision to let corporations spend as much as they want on American elections made the situation a lot worse. With campaign limits, there was some semblance of a level playing field. Now, elections can be bought by billionaires like the Koch brothers and mighty corporations like Monsanto and the oil companies.

Why? Don’t tell me American voters are so impressionable that they are influenced by those absurd TV commercials? Surely, by now we all know the commercials are bogus? I hear some sonorous voice on TV declaring that whenCharlie Crist was governor, Florida’s unemployment soared. Does that make me change my mind and vote for Rick Scott?

Don’t make me laugh. I know that even if the commercial is loosely based on real figures, Crist was not responsible for Florida losing jobs. During his time as governor (from 2007 to 2011) a lot of things were happening nationally – such as the horrific recession triggered by George W. Bush’s wild and woolly presidency. But even if the commercial was rock solid, I wouldn’t change my mind and vote Republican after all these years.

And I don’t expect Republicans to change their minds either. So who gets influenced by the ads? I don’t know one person who changed their vote because of something they saw or heard in the media. Do you?

In my experience, it’s the turnout that matters. Sometimes a lot of Democrats stay home, and the Republicans get elected. It’s as simple as that.

My in basket is deluged with begging emails and I bet yours is too. I read that both parties are raising huge sums of money for the November elections. The argument is that the more money raised the better the chance of victory. And I suppose there’s some truth in that. But it’s not always true.

Of course, a lot of professional campaigners get fat off bloated campaign spending. And so do a lot of politicians. The media gets its share too. But we don’t have to vote for the bad guys. It’s our job to keep abreast of what’s going on and vote accordingly. If we rely on TV ads for our information, we will get what we deserve

Door-to-door campaigning has to be more effective than those ludicrous campaign ads. I remember how an obscure Lakeland lawyer named Lawton Chiles walked across Florida and drummed up enough support to get elected to the US Senate and later became our governor. Sure it cost money – but not the kind of money those TV ads cost.

I suspect the PR operatives and the marketing hucksters have sold us all a bill of goods. They’re the ones who profit most from today’s obscene campaign spending. But don’t wait for Congress to set things right. Campaign spending limits will never be reintroduced in America. Too many people profit too much by the current system. Even in Canada, I see Stephen Harper is trying to get their limits removed.

The only way to get your candidate elected is to vote. And a lot of us aren’t voting. So let’s stop blaming the filthy rich for showering the airwaves with cash in an effort to take over our government. Let’s take responsibility for our own destinies. Let’s get off our rear ends and vote!


War and Peace II



This won’t be as long as Tolstoy’s masterpiece and there will be no fresh insights. Everything old is new again, as the song says, so there’s nothing to add that you don’t already know. You know it but you don’t believe it.

That’s the way we humans are. We are in denial.

We – yes I am included – believe we can end violence with violence.  The President will tell us tonight how he plans to stamp out the evil ISIL (also known as ISIS), and I will be among those applauding him. Yes, bomb the beheading bastards! If anyone deserves it, they do.

And with each dead ISIS extremist, ten more will spring up like the mythological dragon’s teeth, ready for eternal jihad.

But what alternative is there? ISIS cannot be allowed to take over Iraq and Syria. Do you think they would stop there? Their objective is to conquer the Mideast today and the world tomorrow.

Think of what that would do to the global oil market.

On purely moral grounds, ISIS cannot be allowed to continue its unspeakable atrocities. Edmund Burke hit the nail on the head when he observed that all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. We good people – you and I – have an obligation to do something to protect civilization.

If only for our own sakes.

Islamic extremism is a threat to us all. It is a pernicious germ that – if it is not wiped out – will infect the world and breed an army of converts to destroy our civilization from within.

So what do you say? Let’s wipe it out.

The problem is that bombs and bullets  haven’t worked in the past. Good and evil have been at war in the world for generations. Monstrous villains come and go, and the struggle never ends.

We have had the war to end all wars, and the wars have not ended. We have created The Bomb, which by itself should be a powerful deterrent against aggression, yet aggression has proliferated. We devote an unseemly share of human resources to “defense budgets” yet we bcome ever more vulnerable.

Somewhere along the way, civilization took a wrong turn. Instead of taking the path of tolerance, understanding, sharing and love, we opted for a system in which selfishness, greed and bullying are glorified. Such a system inevitably breeds resentment and hate, and as long as it prevails, there will be no peace.

So I’ll listen to the President’s speech tonight and I am sure I will be gratified to learn how he proposes to rid the world of this latest horror. Then I’ll pray for peace.

Click for more on the President’s speech.


For Kids. Farmers, too



When I think of the things some Republicans do and say these days, I cringe in horror. I am tempted to dismiss all Republicans as subhuman sadists or knuckle dragging neanderthals. And then I get an email from Adam Putnam.

He is a Republican born and bred. The scion of a rich citrus and cattle family, he was elected to the state Legislature right out of University of Florida and went on to become the youngest-ever member of Congress. Folks around here would likely have voted him back to Washington forever. But in 2010 – when people were eyeing him as a potential candidate for governor or even president – he surprised everybody and ran for state Commissioner of Agriculture.

Of course he was elected. And he is likely to be re-elected in November.

I think I know why. Adam Putnam may be a Republican but he sounds concerned for the welfare of rich and poor alike. Especially the kids.

His email began:

Hi George,

Did you know ensuring Florida’s students receive proper nutrition is one of my top priorities as the Commissioner of Agriculture?

No Commissioner, I did not know that. I thought all of you Republicans were in favor of limiting the school lunch program, cutting the food stamp budget and generally making life miserable for America’s struggling families.

Putnam’s email went on:

We know that without proper nutrition kids just can’t learn up to their potential in the classroom and that is why I’ve worked to direct more locally-grown fresh produce to our schools.

Well, I know “that without proper nutrition kids just can’t learn up to their potential in the classroom.” But I never realized you knew that, Commissioner. I thought you Republicans figured a little starvation would help to sharpen the students’ wits.

It’s heartening to realize you were thinking of ensuring proper nutrition for Florida’s kids and not just boosting sales for Florida’s land barons when you “worked to direct more locally-grown fresh produce to our schools.”

Whatever your motive or motives might be, I am very pleased to learn that:

Many Florida schools now offer locally-grown fruits and vegetables in their cafeterias. In some cases, students are eating produce picked from within miles of their classroom.

Of course I don’t know how much longer that will last if your Republican buddies retain control of Congress. Squeezing this kind of “welfare”  program is one of their priorities.

I don’t know if you still have connections in Washington, Commissioner. But if you do, you might want to mention that the school lunch program isn’t just a necessity for kids who might not get enough to eat at home. You might point out that it is also a pretty good way of sustaining demand for the stuff those rich farmers grow – the rich farmers who help to finance Republican candidates across America.

Click for more on Republicans and school lunches.